I prefer not to talk about my work.

I was out last Saturday and photographed in a parking lot. I was down on my knees with my toys in the pool of water in front of me when a car drove in and parked. I saw it happening in the corner of the eye and realized that it was probably best to leave.

Yes, I confess… I’m not like Shelly that I say it out loud

I work by myself

I prefer to photograph for myself, not hiding, but with my own company. I had already picked up my things, when I realize that it was too late. The man in the car has decided that it was time to ask me what I do. But when he reached me, I realized that he already knew or had guessed. Because he wanted to see the images.

With a deep exhale I showed him the back of my camera and one of the images I had just done. But doing this it made me think: why am I like this? Why do I think it’s so hard to talk about my pictures?

Why is it so hard to talk about my work?

I think I know. It’s the same feeling that makes me be moderate with my presence in social media. My photographic work is a lot about me. Talking about my work is, in a way, talking about me, myself, my experiences and my own life. I prefer not to talk about that. And if I do, I want to talk about my photos in rooms that I feel safe in. A stranger who wants to know what I’m doing when I’m kneeling near a water puddle; or an avatar on social media that pushes the like-button; these situations don’t make me feel safe or understood. I prefer to work for myself and save my work for places that aren’t about being the most popular, or the best.

In short: I take myself too seriously. I wish I didn’t and that I saw all the possibilities to share, to talk, or to make sense of my work, but I don’t. Now you know.

Kristina

Ode to the LEGO Ladder

I really like the LEGO ladder. So much so, I thought I would write an Ode to the LEGO ladder. I think the LEGO ladder is a frequently over looked accessory. Sure we see plenty of cats, dogs, teddy bears, coffee mugs and the like well represented in toy photography. But when did you last see a LEGO ladder used?

James made a great case recently about how accessories can bring depth to your story or add an unusual twist. I even wrote a piece a while back about how the venerable teddy bear seems to be everyone’s favorite prop. Now it’s time to take a closer look at the possibilities of the humble LEGO ladder.

A Few Uses for The LEGO Ladder

You can use the LEGO Ladder to climb into a flower to hide from your mother like this little bunny. (An except from The Runaway Bunny, re told with LEGO.)

You can use the LEGO Ladder to climb the stack of books on your must read pile!

The LEGO Ladder comes in handy when its time to decorate the Christmas tree!

The Polar Bear lookout finds the LEGO ladder a handy tool while on duty. He uses it to see over those high snow drifts.

Or maybe the best use for the LEGO ladder is to help a certain dapper gentleman to cross the river safely?

Rich in Symbolism

Besides being a fun and useful prop, did you know that the ladder is rich in symbolism? The ladder is often used to represent a connection between heaven and earth or the physical and the spiritual world.

The Ladder, which is rich in symbolism and Metaphor, consists of Horizontal Rungs and two Vertical Uprights. The Horizontal rungs represent progressively higher levels of consciousness and the two Vertical Uprights, ( I I ), represent the symbol for duality.

Each rung represents a gradual ascent whereby
wisdom, knowledge, enlightenment and perfection are earned
by us one step at a time. However, we must also keep in mind
that no journey is without its rests and pauses. Therefore,
whenever we require a respite during our spiritual ascent, the
rungs of The Ladder provide us with the support and strength we
need until we are ready to take our next step upward.

– Joseph “Joe” Panek, A Seeker’s Thoughts

Who knew a simple LEGO Ladder could add so many layers of meaning to a toy photo?

There are many other uses for the LEGO ladder, these are only a few that I’ve found. The whole world of comedy and slapstick seems like a natural fit for a LEGO ladder. Or maybe you could use a ladder as a prop in your LEGO township? The LEGO ladder can also be used as a makeshift emergency stretcher in your LEGO City. There seem to be many unexplored uses for the helpful Lego Ladder.

I’ve grown to appreciate this thin piece of white plastic and you’ll always find one or two in my bag of tricks. They are always at the ready to assist a figure across a raging river or to a better viewpoint.

Do you have a favorite over looked accessory?

Shelly

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Small Surrealism

“A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture.”

– On Photography by Susan Sontag

Toy Photography Movement

When photography first came about it was a way to further describe an actual thing. It was meant to be truthful. Overtime of course, photography evolved in many ways, even becoming its own art form as creators found ways to lie through the camera lens.

Toy photography as a part of that movement, is and was a groundbreaking departure from the truth. While we may not be photographing the already existent world around us, we’re storytellers finding our own truths within the posed photograph. And I argue that sometimes we can delve deeper into a truthful topic by creating a whole new world that reflects our thoughts.

Surrealist Movement

This is a similar idea to that of the surrealist movement.

Surrealism: “a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.”

The term itself was coined in 1917 and 3 years later referred to a Parisian art movement.

Surreal work relies on juxtaposition and unreal compositions. Think dream-like states. Original surrealist art was meant to be freeing to the viewer of restrictive customs and structure.

The Combination of the Two

Honestly, while I might be biased here, toys are a perfect medium for surrealist narratives. We can combine, edit, and alter scenes, scale, etc. just by adding in and removing toys from the field of the photo.

We give toys new meaning by combining them in interesting ways.

Tourmaline .

Do you ever take surreal images of your toys? Tell us about it and leave a link to a photo in a comment below.

Also, if you enjoy this post idea let me know what photo genres you’d most like to see next.


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Posting with Purpose

How do you decide which photos to post? When do, or should you post them? Is there a specific time of day, or a specific reason why you publish a photo online?

I’m constantly asking myself these questions. It stems partly from working in social media marketing, where it’s important to optimize your posting in order to reach the widest audience. I also feel a need to “curate” my output.

I want there to be a method to my madness.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t

-Polonius, Hamlet

Perhaps it’s an insecurity, but I tend to overthink when it’s appropriate or “best” to post a particular photo. As a result, I tend to post more often on special occasions, which I’ve found isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

While the amount of reach or attention a particular photo gets isn’t the most important thing about my art, it’s still the nature of the social media world we live in. Of course I want my work to reach the widest audience possible, or strike a nerve at just the right time!

lego-calendar-man
Calendar Man may be a dastardly Batman villain, but he sure knows how to plan ahead!

Posting with Purpose

This may all have started from some underlying fear of rejection, but I can’t deny that it’s there and ultimately part of my process. So, I use it to my advantage, and do something I like to call “posting with purpose.” I’ve found that utilizing this “special occasion” mentality can actually help my creative output and bring me out of creative ruts.

Here are a few ways you can post with purpose:

  1. Holidays present the perfect reason to post a photo. As a bonus, they’re predictable, giving you a clear deadline on when an image needs to be taken, edited, and posted.

    lego-joker
    Your holiday photos can be as literal or broad as you want. I found the Joker to be a great subject for April Fool’s Day!
  2. “Newsjacking” is a term used for marketing, defined as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” Is there something particularly news-worthy that’s sparked your creativity? Seize that opportunity and make sure to use the coinciding hashtag if appropriate! You can pick big, important events like the Women’s March, or pop culture events like the release of a new movie or movie trailer.

    lego-star-wars-last-jedi-kylo-ren
    This shot was a recreation from the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer
  3. Contests and challenges. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about using contests to fuel your creative fire. I also like to pay close attention to communities on social media that hold weekly or monthly challenges. There are even themed hashtag events (like Raptor Pack Day on Instagram) you can use to generate new photo ideas!

    lego-aquaman-justice-league
    Brickcentral’s #bc_gloriousfood challenge for October gave me the idea to finally photograph the new Justice League Aquaman figure
  4. Days of the Year. Just about every single day of the year has some kind of special and (more often than not) bizarre holiday attached to it. Today, October 14th, for instance, is National Dessert Day. Luckily, plenty of websites provide calendars for such days so that you can plan ahead. Scroll through the list and see what kind of ideas you can come up with!Months and weeks have designated themes too. October is, among other things, Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Pizza Month.

    lego-hotdog
    July 19th was National Hot Dog Day!
  5. Life Events. Is it your birthday? Your nephew’s high school graduation? Your marriage anniversary? Turn these life events into opportunities to take personal and memorable photos!
lego-podcast
A photo to commemorate the first time I guest starred on a podcast

Hopefully, over time, I’ll get more comfortable with sharing shots on a random day, unprompted. In the meantime, I’ve found that posting with purpose has helped me stay consistent, and keeps my creative juices flowing!

Do you find yourself curating your feed, or post for specific reasons? Share your methods in the comments below! 

-James

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Why aren’t there more Female Collectible Minifigures?

Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more female minifigures represented in the LEGO Collectible minifigures line? Series after series we mention in our reviews the absence of female minifigures. It seems there is an explanation for this disparity: Boys complain when they open up a blind bag and see a female character.

Really? The reason why there are so many male figures is that girls are happy with any mini figure that looks good and boys complain when it isn’t a boy?

At least this is the reason related to me by my friend Alice Finch who attended a work shop at the Skærbæk Fan Weekend given by Austin William Carlson, a minifigures designer for The LEGO Group. I know that this is very second hand information, but I heard this same quote from two different people who attended the talk: the boys complain and the girls don’t.

As we all know, The LEGO Group is finely attended to their customers and they take customer feedback very seriously. They want to accommodate their customers and give them what they want – even if it’s historically inaccurate.

The Ten LEGO Characteristics

In 1963 Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, son of LEGO founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen, developed a set of guidelines – a LEGO constitution so to speak – to guide both the consumers and the customers of LEGO. His 10 basic characteristics become the core of LEGO development and guided the company.

Notice number two? LEGO is for girls, for boys. LEGO is designed for all children, with girls even coming before boys. Back in 1963 LEGO was designed for all children, not just the ones who complained the most. It seems in the intervening years The LEGO Group has put company profits ahead of the ideals the company was founded on. I might be able to understand this line of thinking of there are shareholders to be accountable to; but The LEGO Group is a privately held company. They are accountable to no one but themselves and their own ideals.

Who is complaining?

So who is doing all this complaining? Certainly in the talk given at Skærbæk there were no details given about how these complaints were received. Were they generated by focus groups or were they generated through customer service calls? I can imagine that LEGO’s response will be different depending on how these complaints are generated.

When boys complain, who is really doing the complaining? Do these young boys, who are so disappointed by receiving a female collectible mini figure, ask for LEGO’s customer service number so they can call and complain? Or is mom or dad complaining on behalf of the ‘disappointed’ child? If mom or dad is actually making the phone call – who is the one disappointed? Why doesn’t the parent use these moments of perceived disappointment as a chance to explain that all figures are equal and that they can have as much fun with a female minifigure as with a male minifigure?

When we show our children that boy mini figures are more valuable than female minifigures it doesn’t take a big leap to see how this plays out years later in today’s newspaper headlines.

Collectible MiniFigures

Have you ever sat down and looked at how many female collectible minifigures are in each series? In series 1-4 there are only three characters that are recognizable as female. In Series 4 and 5 there were four female characters. Ever since series seven their have been five of sixteen characters that can be identified as female. The exceptions to this is the Lego Movie, the second series of The Simpsons and the Disney series, each has six female characters.

Maybe the LEGO minifigure designers are having a hard time thinking up ideas for collectible minifigure characters. I know that I would have a difficult time creating 48 distinct characters every year. So to help The LEGO Group out I asked my fellow Toy Photography moderators to come up with ideas for new female minifigures. Here is our list:

This list only took a few minutes of brainstorming. Who knows what amazing characters a room full of professional minifigure designers will come up with?

Conclusion

I don’t think it is the LEGO Groups responsibility to change the social injustices of the world. If LEGO is only hearing the complaints from the boys, then as a female and as a mom, I am officially registering my complaint that there are too many male oriented figures in the collectible minifigure series. I demand to see a better representation of female characters intros series. And I don’t mean simply offering up a female scientist, female snowboarder, female policeman. I’m pretty sure that this mini figure designers are more clever than that.

I don’t think it is too much to ask The LEGO Group to live up to the standards they set for themselves: dee beds er ikke for godt. This roughly means “only the best is the best” or more literally “the best is never too good”. Would it be too much to ask to create toys for both girls and boys equally? Is it really asking too much to treat boys and girls the same? They can begin making amends by increasing the number of female oriented mini figures in the collectable minifigure series and to start taking the complaints from their consumers with a little more skepticism.

Shelly

What female mini figures would you like to see represented in the popular collectible minifigure series? 

Feel free to leave your own thoughts below on gender equality.

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Request Inquest

Allow me to paint a cautionary tale of a request for artwork and some unforeseen pitfalls that I encountered. Pitfalls that you might avoid after I’m done babbling.

A cautionary tale is a tale told in folklore, to warn of a danger. There are essentially three parts to a cautionary tale.

  1. Firstly, a taboo or prohibition is stated
  2. Then, the narrative itself is told
  3. And finally, the one who disregards the forewarning of taboo comes to an unpleasant fate, which is commonly told in grisly detail

1. The Cautioning (not heeded)

Recently I was contacted by an agency regarding shooting a certain line of LEGO for their client.

There had been posts about product photography, and declarations of not being a product photographer from Kristina and Shelly. I ignored them. Shelly’s post even had a heading “Be careful what you wish for” but that warning was flouted.

I agreed to their request for artwork. My agreement was based on previous dealings I’d had with clients. Previously, I’ve been asked to submit existing photographs or create new ones. Each time I’ve been approached there has been a familiarity with my work, and based on that, there’s been an understanding of what I’ll likely produce. A certain level of trust is established, and creative licence is granted around a certain theme or line.

That’s what I based my acceptance of this request for artwork on.

2. The Narrative (not in six images)

After accepting the offer, things progressed nicely. There was talk around the line to be shot, preferences for styles, number of artefacts to be submitted, timeframes, fees etc.

request for artwork: Fishing for common sense
Fishing for common sense

As the emails from the agency continued I was sent a list of links referencing other toy photographers as examples of great editing. Maybe this should’ve been when the alarm bells should’ve started ringing?

She loves me, she loves me not
Wise up sucker to what you’ve got
Pop Will Eat Itself – Wise Up, Sucker 

There was another line in these initial emails that sparked my concerns; “the client has at least 2 rounds of reviews prior to final approval“. I’d never encountered this type of caveat before. The knowing of my work and the faith that I’ll provide photographs of a similar ilk and standard never required my work to be reviewed before.

The First Review

Two weeks after the initial contact, I got my first taste of the client’s review. Based on a reference photograph I sent through, it was critiqued with “effects are welcomed but should not overshadow the characters”. This was one of my photos, underlining my apprehensions that the client wasn’t familiar with my works. It also came after the initial brief highlighted “preference is to have effects added/edit photos to make the scenes look more lifelike and cinematic” as a desired parameter.

Based on the client’s review, I then clarified that the characters would be the key focus of every shot delivered, and sent through some more of my shots as reference points, highlighting this. However, the client expected to receive more specificity around each asset.

I then sent through a list of specific ideas for each shot of the items found on the link that was provided to me as the subjects to be photographed.

request for artwork: It's a bizarro world we walk through
It’s a bizarro world we wander through.

Whilst waiting for another review of these planned shots, there was a shift in the scope. As time was ticking (5 days past the preliminary due date), the agency recommended to the client that some of the content now be created around holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving.

You won’t even take a look,
To see another way
You aren’t even listening,
Take your ideals and go away
Pennywise- Same Old Story

The Second Review

As I attempted to digest this latest shift (Halloween and Thanksgiving are not so big in my Australian world?), the second review from the client landed in my inbox.

This review of my proposed shots contained feedback such as “we should have a character in every shot”, “we shouldn’t have other LEGO pieces in these shots”, “we’ve done something like this before” etc. Befuddled, I replied asking for a definitive list of exactly which characters the client wanted featured, not just a link to the entire line that characters were included in. 

3. The Fate (not so grisly)

The next email that popped into my inbox informed me that the client had shifted gears to focus on another campaign.

After 5 weeks and over 30 emails back and forth, the agency and I said our farewells.

I bear no grudges towards the agency that contacted me. They were merely the middleperson between the client and me. As they said “it truly took a crazy turn”. They offered the hope that we could work together in the future before we said our goodbyes.

If that opportunity arises, I’ll be better prepared to request what I’ll need to make the next venture work.

If there’s one lesson I’ve taken from this experience, it’s that not all offers are the same. I’ll never assume that my past experiences will be the same as new ones the next time a request for artwork arises. Maybe I’d just been lucky until now?

I should point out that in the days following our farewells, two extremely exciting opportunities came my way from LEGO. Working with someone who knows what I’ll produce and me! Working with someone that I understand what it is they expect!

Not all offers are as intricate or anticlimactic as the one in this tale.

– Brett

Has a request for artwork ever come your way? What was your experience like?

If you’ve made through all my blathering and ended up here, you should sign up to our weekly email round up where you’ll get a recap of all the babbling from the week.

And while you’re doing things, you should definitely join our G+ Community where we hold monthly contests with prizes and lots of other cool stuff too.

Phonegraphy: All You Need In The Palm Of Your Hands”

What’s in your hand right now? It’s probably your cellphone, right? Maybe you’re at home or maybe you’re at work or perhaps you’re in the restroom during a first date. Hey, no judgement here.

The point is your phone is most likely with you at all times. That means that if you bring a toy along with you then you have everything you need for toy photography.

It’s what I used when I started shooting my figures. My first images were a bit stiff, editing to me meant boosting the saturation and maybe using a filter, oh and I also shot in square because I thought that was just the way it was on Instagram. But I never felt limited to when and where I could shoot, I only felt limited by my knowledge, understanding and experience as a photographer. Over time I learned more about the editing process, I appreciated the posing of an action figure and how to frame them to show a compelling image.

I eventually upgraded to a ‘real’ camera, my Canon Rebel SL1. Having a DSLR gave me the opportunity to learn more about exposure, focal lengths of lens, and other settings like that. There’s no denying the technical advantages but the creativity of your photos still stems from you.

I recently got an iPhone 7 earlier this year and started playing with a $2 app called ProCamera which allows you to adjust the exposure, shutter speed and ISO, it also gives you the ability to shoot at 16×9 plus other adjustments.

It’s truly incredible what you can capture with such a device. Whether you’re looking to capture more of the environment around your subject or zoom in on the finer details of your subject, it’s well within the capabilities of your smartphone. Because of the position of the camera lens and the size of your phone you’re able to get angles in environments that your DSLR simply can’t. That is huge.

I have since found myself alternating between my SL1 and my phone. Just like using a different toy will tell a different story, a different camera can shape the narrative of your photography as well. It all comes down to what you want to capture. Honestly, some of my favorite shots have come from what I’ve shot on my phone.

Seeing as how you most likely have your phone on you wherever you go, well then you’ve got the whole world in your hands. The whole wide world. Whatever your tool of choice is, the beauty of your work comes from your vision. So, whether you use a phone as your primary source or as an alternative method, you can capture truly amazing images that you’ll be proud of.

Austin Anderson (@toy.at.heart)

September Photo Challenge: Music

Todays post features the winners of the September photo challenge: Music from our G+ Community. We want to recognize our grand prize winner, some of our favorite entries as well as thank everyone who participated.

Photography challenges are a great way to get the creative juices flowing. That’s why every month we sponsor a contest in the G+ Toy Photographers Community. Last month Jason Nvrmore challenged the community to: “Take the power of music and create images with your toys based on music!”

So we did!

Purple Rain, Hey Jude, The Twist, I Walk The Line, Eye of the Tiger, Another One Bites The Dust, London Calling, House of the Rising Sun… Music means so much to us all. I personally equate songs to the most memorable moments my life. Songs also amplify our feelings… love, anguish, joy, sadness, to name a few. Songs empower us and encourage us to rise to action. Music transcends space and time. Music is not bound by language or ethnicity. – Jason Nvrmore

We had nearly 60 entries in addition to photos from our amazing moderators. The musical genres represented ranged from popular music, show tunes, classic rock and even a couple of sea chanties (those were mine!) Not only was the community treated to a visual feast, we all learned a little bit about the music that feeds our souls.

Grand Prize Winner
Marco (TheAphol) – Musical Note Harvest
Honorable Mentions

Júlia Vazquez – Thriller

Dave DeBaermaeker – Alone in the Spotlight
Tomasz Lasek – Tom’s Diner
Dennis T – Somebody to Love

A huge thank you to everyone who participated in our September photo challenge. It was without a doubt, our most successful contest to date.

Octobers Challenge

October is a new month and we have been challenged by Jennifer (Tourmaline) to create an image using a less is more philosophy.

The more expensive the toy, the better the picture? Or is the opposite really true? Can a less detailed toy force us as photographers to be more creative with how we photograph?

This month, you decide.

Go to your local equivalent of a dollar store – pound shop, tier’n, bubbeltien, 100 yen, 38 000 lei, todo a 100, you get the picture – and purchase a toy to photograph. Work your magic, and share up to 3 of your photo results with us here. – Jennifer

Are you up to challenge?

If so, then join our G+ Community and show us how creative you can get with cheap toys, dime store knock offs, dollar store imports and thrift store finds. As always the winning photo will grace our community banner for the month, you will be sent a cool prize from either Brett or myself. And as a special incentive, for the next three months, you could win an Antman! There will be no excuses this year for not participate in #jANTMANuary!

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the Music Challenge. You are what make our community so special.

~ Shelly

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Pint-Sized Portraits

A Short Introduction

Toy photography, while in itself a form of fabricated or tableau photography, has a way of spanning across all genres of the medium. This is one of the many many things I love about toy photos. Through toys we can tell stories, document places, record our travels, explore tiny details, the list goes on. To highlight the magic of toy photos and all the things they can come to represent I thought I’d create some posts of different photo genres and where toys fit within them.  

In a sense I’ve talked about architecture and product photography here before, and I’m here today to make a case for portraits.

Portraiture

Portrait: a pictorial representation of a person usually showing the face 

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Artistic representations of people began with cave paintings and have been a part of all cultures since. Quite simply they are representations of people. Toy figures themselves are representations of the same, and thus so are our photographs of them. 

Learn more about the history of artistic portraits here.

“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”


– Paul Caponigro

Plastic Faces

A human face can tell us a lot about the person, through their expression, wrinkles, sunspots, makeup, etc. A toy face is a bit different. Typically expressionless or bound to one emotion, we have to find ways to tell the figure’s story for them through posing, lighting and other props. While toys come in many varieties, using human like figures in your photos can truly help your audience relate – through these plastic, inanimate objects the viewers can see themselves.

We give toy figures a voice by making portraits of them. 

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Do you ever take portrait-like images of your toy figures? Tell us about it and leave a link to a photo in a comment below.

Also, if you enjoy this post idea let me know what photo genres you’d most like to see next.


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Season of Change

Autumn is here for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, and I must admit that I’ve been hit with a strong case of Seasonal Infectious Disorder! Fall is my favorite time of year, and I’ve already begun to see the change of season reflected in my photography.

Fall signifies change – the shift in color and shedding of leaves, cooler temperatures, and the beginning of the rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest. The air itself feels crisp, the daylight hours become shorter, and the countdown to Halloween begins.

Most people feel energized when the sun is shining or when the weather heats up, but I’m the opposite. I thrive off of cooler temperatures and the Autumn rain. Continue reading Season of Change